'We are all God's children' – Leo makes his LGBT point to Pence
Standing on the porch of his Washington home, US Vice-President Mike Pence broke the ice with the Taoiseach’s partner Matt Barrett, saying: “Chicago is home to you… my whole family is from Chicago.”
He was referring to the cardiologist’s time working in a hospital in the city as he welcomed Mr Barrett and Mr Varadkar to the US Naval Observatory residence.
The conservative Christian politician has been criticised for his views on LGBT issues and his opposition to same-sex marriage. But he was a gracious host at the annual St Patrick’s week breakfast and he thanked Mr Varadkar, one of the world’s few openly gay leaders, for visiting and “honouring us with your presence”.
However, it was not an occasion Mr Varadkar could allow pass without using the opportunity to highlight his own story and how he had, as a gay man, become the leader of a changed, tolerant Ireland.
In carefully crafted words that will surely resonate with the LGBT community in the US, Mr Varadkar told how that country had inspired him to run for office and drive change in Ireland. He said he once lived in a country where if he had been himself he would have been breaking laws and now that has all changed.
Mr Varadkar said: “I stand here this morning as leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions and not by my sexual orientation or my skin tone or my gender or religious beliefs.
“And I don’t believe my country is the only one in the world where this story is possible. It is found in every country where freedom and liberty are cherished. We are, after all, all God’s children.”
Mr Pence said Mr Varadkar had offered “inspiring words” and asked his sister Annie Poynter to say blessings before they tucked into a breakfast of “Eggs St Patrick”, applewood smoked bacon and boxty.
It was potentially the thorniest meeting in Mr Varadkar’s packed Washington schedule but it passed off well, with Mr Pence promising to visit Ireland with his mother Nancy to see their ancestral home.
In contrast, President Trump was in combative form in the Oval Office where the meeting with Mr Varadkar came shortly after the Senate voted to end his declaration of a national emergency on the US-Mexico border. When Mr Trump was asked about it by US reporters, he turned to Mr Varadkar and said: “We have a border situation also. It’s slightly different than yours.”
He ranted against Democrats who had brought “horrible” immigration laws and the Republicans that didn’t fight hard enough to oppose them.
But he insisted: “We are going to have a very strong border very soon,” and he praised law enforcement officers catching “thousands of illegal aliens a month”.
Mr Varadkar looked bemused as the president mocked Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who had declared his intention to run for president in 2020. Mr Trump said he had seen Mr O’Rourke’s announcement and said: “I’ve never seen so much hand movement. Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?”
Asked if Mr O’Rourke or former vice-president Joe Biden would be a bigger threat to him, Mr Trump replied: “Whoever it is, I’ll take them on”.
At the Capitol Hill lunch hosted by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Mr Varadkar avoided remarks similar to his infamous windfarm gaffe last year. Mr Trump returned to Brexit, saying it’s something that’s turning out “a little more complex” than some people had thought “but it will all work out”. Many in the room, including Mr Varadkar, DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, were surely thinking, “if only it was all so simple”.
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